I couldn’t fully grasp how extraordinary the Galapagos Islands were until my second day. In walking two kilometres, the landscape had changed drastically. One minute I was walking on a sand beach, then my feet stumbled over black precarious volcanic rock. Around me, the mangroves turned into cacti and the sea birds into finches.
I wondered how such a small area could differ so drastically.
On the islands, you’re going to want to spend every waking moment trying to memorize how the lava rock warped into the sea and how the pelicans landed so ungracefully into the mangroves.
Here are ten unforgettable experiences you must have on your trip to the Galapagos Islands:
On the plane into Baltra – the island with the airport – you’ll watch a video about all the rules you must follow while visiting Galapagos. One of those rules is to stay at least two metres back from the wildlife. I remember thinking, “how close were the animals going to get?”
It turns out they get close. You’ll spot the black Marine Iguanas basking on the volcanic rock while the Galapagos sea lions frolic in the shallows. The pelicans, frigatebird and the blue-footed boobies soar along the coastline and further inland you’ll see the giant tortoise just grazing in a field.
Hands down, the wildlife is the number one reason why people want to travel to the Galapagos Islands.
Snorkelling at Los Tuneles
Hopefully, you’ll get multiple opportunities to snorkel or dive while in the Galapagos, but Los Tuneles has got to be the best place to go.
It takes about 45 minutes by boat from Puerto Villamil, and the captains have to manoeuvre the tricky surf break to get into the shallow area.
The geologic tunnels are remnants of lava tubes that crisscross forming a labyrinth of bridges. Below the water line, it is teaming with marine life. The shallows are home to white tip reef sharks, sea turtles, seahorses, eels and more fish species than you can name.
From above you can walk along the natural bridges and spot the blue footed boobies nesting.
Swimming at Las Grietas
Las Grietas is a must stop for any Galapagos visitor. A short hike from Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, this crevasse is one fantastic place to swim! Its secludedness makes you feel like you’re in a secret swimming hole.To get there you have to take a water taxi from Puerto Ayora to the other side of the bay, then walk past the pink salt fields, past the cacti and the rivers until you get to the wooden stairs that take you into the crevasse.
The water is so clear, and the hike there makes it all so worth it.
Hiking to the rim of Sierra Negra
While in the Galapagos, it’s important to comprehend how the islands are formed. The best way to do that is to visit the Sierra Negra, the most active volcano on the island.
It last erupted in 2005, but today the floor of the caldera is black from the cooled lava flow. You can’t appreciate the size of the entire volcano until you stand at its edge.
When our group ascended the hill (using a steeper shortcut), we climbed into a cloud. By the time we reached the edge, the clouds dissipated and suddenly we could see the fantastic view.
Visit the fish market in Puerto Ayora
If you want to get to know some Galapagos locals, then hang out at the fish market in Puerto Ayora. There, the Islanders bring their catch to be gutted and sold. You’ll also find the markets inhabited by pelicans and sea lions looking for fish scraps as their next meal.
Visit the Galapagos giant tortoise breeding centre
There are three great places to see the giant tortoise in the Galapagos. At the Charles Darwin Research Centre on Santa Cruz, you’ll see the saddlebacks, like famous Lonesome George. On Floreana, visitors can take the trip to the highlands to see the Asilo de la Paz, a massive tortoise corral. But the highlight is the Tortoise Breeding Centre on Isabela Island. Here you can see the park’s efforts in reintroducing the tortoise population to the islands. And you can squeal at how adorable the tiny tortoises are.
Take a speedboat between islands
I’ll admit, I looked longingly at the catamarans and liveaboards while boarding the boat that would take me to the next island. You don’t appreciate the distance between the islands until you take a small speed boat. Two hours of insane waves can make even the strongest stomach turn in knots. However, the small boat allowed us to get close to nesting birds and even close to penguins jumping around on the rocks.
Related: Visit Galapagos – Floreana Island
Shop at the handicraft market
Puerto Ayora is the most populated town on the islands, and it has the best shopping. Prices aren’t cheap, but at night you can visit the Mercado Artesanal, the handcraft market. Grab a stunning necklace or t-shirt to remember your trip. I like to collect patches from all the places I’ve been to so I can stitch them onto my camera bag.
Experience a homestay on Floreana Island
Floreana was by far my favourite island. There are only 100 people on the island and feels very remote. To keep businesses going, homestays are an attractive option when staying overnight. The place I stayed at was no luxury, but it was perfect to me. It brought a smile to my face to look out at the restaurant next door to see locals laughing and conversing while the children watched Netflix! Our host, Santiago, had lived on the islands for over 50 years.
Watch the sunset at Playa Negra
Grab a $10 wine bottle and glass because you’re going to want to cheers the beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Playa Negra is the perfect spot to do this. From the beach, you can also spot sea turtles coming up for air!
What unforgettable experience would you want to do while in the Galapagos? Tell me below.
Would you go for the wildlife or landscapes?
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